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Lincoln tackling invasives at the roots: Community to rally for 'Green Up' style event

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Posted on June 8, 2017 |
By Gaen Murphree



n Lincoln poisonparsniplady1472.jpg
LINCOLN CONSERVATION COMMISSION Chair Tina Scharf, above, kneels next to young poison parsnip plants in Lincoln. When full grown, the plants will shoot up to around four feet. The conservation commission is hosting its first annual X Out Xotics day on June 17, to remove poison parsnip along roads in Lincoln. Poison parsnip, below, left, frequently seen along Vermont roadsides. Depending on the elevation, it tends to reach its full height and bloom in July and go to seed in August. The plant somewhat resembles Queen Anne’s lace, but with yellow blossoms. This non-native plant can cause a chemical burn when its sap touches skin in full sun. This emerging poison parsnip plant, below, right, in Lincoln is still under a foot high. Later in the summer it will shoot up a four-foot stalk and bloom. Poison parsnip is invasive to Vermont’s forests, roadsides and pastures. Independent photos/Trent Campbell and Andrea Warren

LINCOLN — Last June, three volunteers drove every road in Lincoln on a mission to search and destroy.

“We rode around every single road in Lincoln and pulled every single piece of wild chervil that we found,” said Lincoln Conservation Commission Chair Tina Scharf. “There’s not much here yet, but I had gone down to Rochester and I was so horrified by the chervil that I just said, ‘I’ve got to do something.’”

This year, the conservation commission is turning its invasives search-and-destroy mission into a townwide party.

On Saturday, June 17, the commission is hosting the first annual Lincoln X Out Xotics Day, a Green Up-style event to get the whole town involved in uprooting two green-stemmed troublemakers: poison parsnip and wild chervil.

According to Vermont Invasives (a co-project of multiple state and nonprofit agencies), intrusive non-native plant and animal species can harm the environment, the state’s economy, and even human health (thickets of invasive barberry, for example, encourage the ticks that carry Lyme disease; poison parsnip can cause a chemical burn when sap, skin and sunlight meet).

And all types of invasives — from bugs to blooms — are becoming more of a problem as people and goods crisscross borders ever more frequently.

Invasive species change and even destroy native ecosystems by:

•  Out-competing natives for resources.

•  Carrying diseases.

•  Disrupting native species’ reproduction.

COSTS TO NATURE/SOCIETY

For biologists, what’s most concerning about invasives is their threat to diversity, Scharf said. (Scharf stressed that though she is a professional consulting wildlife biologist, she is not a professional plant specialist).

“Diversity is always better than not diversity because a diverse environment is more responsive to stresses,” Scharf said.

Invasives can out-compete natives — thus threatening biodiversity — for any of a number of reasons, Scharf explained. The newcomers might lack natural predators. Deer, for example, won’t eat bush honeysuckle or euonymus (burning bush), two ornamental plants invading Vermont forests.

“Deer eat everything else, which gives honeysuckle a competitive advantage,” Scharf said.

Invasive plant and animals might be especially vigorous in how they reproduce. Chervil and poison parsnip are such aggressive invaders, she said, because they make so many seeds.

Invasives also damage diversity because of the ways they disrupt the ecological webs connecting an ecosystem.

“Plants and pollinators have evolved together. But these plants (wild chervil, poison parsnip) are from Europe. They are not from the U.S. The bees and hummingbirds and other pollinators, they can’t use these plants in the same way they can use the native plants that they have co-evolved with,” Scharf explained.

Because the crowding out of native species can be gradual, oftentimes the general public might not notice what’s happening until it’s almost too late and the invasive has become far more established and far more difficult to eradicate. Scharf gave the example of invasive knotweed along the New Haven River:

“There used to be willows. There used to be dogwoods. There used to be ferns. There used to be all kinds of other plants that grew along those banks. And the knotweed pushes them out.”

She said that anyone driving in the summer over Bethel Mountain Road, for example, now sees a drastically changed landscape. The wild chervil, which looks like Queen Anne’s lace, has erased the native carpet of wildflowers.

“The Queen Anne’s lace and daisies and chicory — whatever else is growing, none of that is growing on Bethel Mountain any more,” Scharf said. “The wild chervil has pushed out the daisies and the brown-eyed Susans and the mullein — all of that.”

Invasives can also take a bite out of important sectors of the state’s economy.

“It’s not just roadsides,” Scharf said. “Both wild parsnip and chervil … are also taking over hayfields and pastures. So it can be an economic disadvantage to farmers to have this stuff spreading through the state.”

The best way to get rid of invasives, said Scharf, “is to start controlling them before they’re all over your property. As soon as you start to see them, get rid of them.

“Then they won’t take over an entire field.”

A CULTURAL SHIFT

Scharf said that she began to notice poison parsnip herself about 13 years ago and wild chervil about eight years ago. Over the past five years or so, she’s been religiously encouraging folks via social media to uproot plants just as soon as they appear in yards, driveways, roadsides or fields. In the same way, for years she’s been posting reminders to take down bird feeders by April 1 so that bears don’t become a nuisance.

Starting last summer, she said, “there’s been this explosion of interaction.”

Suddenly people were talking about it on social media. Suddenly people were coming up to her in the Lincoln store, thanking her for her posts and saying, “Oh, I’ve been pulling parsnip.”

She said that as people started to understand the dangers of invasives, “it dawned on me: ‘Maybe this is the time to get a lot more people involved. If we had a Green Up Day-style event there’d be 20 or 30 people.

“We’d get the whole darn town done in one morning. And it wouldn’t be three people driving around in their little cars all day.”

PLAN OF ACTION

Like Green Up Day, the X out Xotics crew is working to make the event fun and festive. There will be food and a treasure hunt for prizes. The Lincoln Conservation Commission will have actual poison parsnip and wild chervil plants on hand to teach plant identification. And there’ll be easy-to-follow instructions in how to yank them out and eradicate them. The commission chose mid June because it’s a time when both plants are easily identifiable and well before either seeds (they spread seeds later in the summer in Lincoln; plant timelines vary with altitude).

A lot of Vermonters, said Scharf, notice and rely on the state’s natural beauty.

“I think we can applaud the people of Vermont for being as aware as they are,” she said. But as aware as Vermonters are, it’s important for folks to continue to find ways to address human-made imbalances.

“I always say that this landscape nurtures me. And so when something is out of balance and you start seeing all these brown stalks by the side of the road — and you know that before you had been looking at a variety of colored wildflowers — then you realize that something needs to be done. But it takes time to get everybody on board.”

For more information on X Out Xotics in Lincoln, contact Lincoln Conservation Chair Tina Scharf at [email protected]

Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected]

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